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Lara Friedman

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The Cost of Appeasing Settler Terrorism

Posted: 12/30/11 01:23 AM ET

The Netanyahu government isn't serious about stopping settler violence.

This is the only possible conclusion. While Netanyahu and his cohorts denounce Jewish extremists and promise to get tough, actions speak louder than words. And their action this week on outposts sent an unmistakable message to the settlers: not only won't you pay a price for terrorism, but you'll be rewarded.

That's the message sent when the Netanyahu government came to an "agreement" with the settlers to launder an illegal outpost called Ramat Gilad. The essence of the deal, which came on the same day that the IDF reportedly arrested a number of settlers for "tracking" IDF activities in the West Bank, is simple: settlers stole land and built illegally on it, but they face no punishment and instead the law will be twisted to kosher their actions.

The connection between settler terrorism and this "deal" is unambiguous -- because the timing of the recent uptick in settler terrorism wasn't coincidental. Settler attacks have increased, and become more brazen, because of the ongoing showdown over outposts (the result of Supreme Court rulings earlier this year). The settlers' violent offensive is an open challenge to Netanyahu and the rule of law. It is the settlers' declaration: give us what we want -- legalize the outposts -- or pay a price. Which is why most recent "price tag" attacks includes the name of an outpost in the graffiti.

But the settlers' terrorism is a double-edged sword. Just as it has sown fear among right-wing politicians, it has provoked outrage among a generally indifferent Israeli public -- because attacking the IDF, in the eyes of most Israelis, is clearly crossing a line (attacking Palestinians, peace activists, and internationals is another matter, but never mind).

Which is to make clear: Netanyahu had a choice. He could have decided to stand with the Israeli people, with the IDF, with the rule of law and the two-state solution -- and he would have had the support of most Israelis. Instead he chose to stand with the settlers. And he sent a clear message to the settlers: your terrorism works.

We've been down this road before.

On February 25, 1994, 5 months after the signing of the Oslo Accords, an Israeli-American settler named Baruch Goldstein entered Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs (aka the Mosque of Abraham). There he opened fire on Muslims at prayer, killing 29 and injuring more than 100.

In the aftermath of Goldstein's massacre, with Israeli popular sentiment against Goldstein and his settler partisans running high, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had the chance to remove the settlers from Hebron. Settlers whose extremist and ever-expansionist presence had, since the birth of the settlement enterprise, led to constant tensions and clashes. Doing so would have signaled the Israeli government's refusal to permit the settlers to hijack Israel's future and refusal to countenance settler terrorism. And under the circumstances, Rabin would have enjoyed wide support among Israelis.

But Rabin didn't do it. Rather than act against the settlers whose extremism gave rise to Goldstein's action, Rabin pandered to them. Instead of removing the settlers, Rabin decided to effectively divide Hebron. This division turned what in the pre-Goldstein era was the thriving Palestinian Hebron central market into a Palestinian-free zone. It meant that Palestinians suddenly found their main street off-limits and their front doors welded shut by the IDF. It turned the downtown into an area where the settlers, under the watchful eyes of the IDF, paint racist graffiti on the shuttered homes and stores and gradually take over more and more property.

With his post-Goldstein actions, Rabin sent a very clear signal to the settlers: your terrorism works. Not only will you not be punished for attacking Palestinians, but you will be rewarded, and at the expense of the Palestinians.

In the almost three decades since the Goldstein Massacre, the settler presence in Hebron has deepened and the settler celebrations of Goldstein as a hero and martyr have become an annual affair, and the memorial to Goldstein on the grounds of the Kiryat Arba settlement adjacent to Hebron, where Goldstein lived, a permanent fixture. And by no coincidence, in those same three decades, settler extremism has thrived.

Israel saw this on November 5, 1995, when Rabin was assassinated by a pro-settler extremist. Rabin -- and the state of Israel -- learned the hard way that appeasing the settler extremists only encourages more, and more violent, extremism.

Sadly, it appears Netanyahu -- and all the Israeli who remain silent today -- have forgotten that lesson.

 

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